Notes from the Backpack #5 – On Being British in the Florida Keys

travel blogger florida keys

Welcome to Notes from the Backpack. This is the weekly post from Luxury Backpack where I offer a slice of a british writer and travel bloggers life in the Florida Keys… my current luxury backpacking adventures, what I’ve been reading, and of course a few anecdotes from my life in the Florida Keys.

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to my 5th edition of Notes from the Backpack. This is basically a personal note from me to you, for the readers that know me, for the frequent visitors to the site, and of course to any newcomers. I moved from London to the Florida Keys in January last year and have been having a lot of laughs adjusting to this easy, breezy, Keys’y life. Read last week’s post here.

What I’ve Been Reading This Week

This week I read The Vacationers by Emma Straub. Admittedly I enjoyed it, and the characters, and would recommend it as an easy poolside read. But I found it to be lacking depth, and the characters didn’t really evolve beyond the predictable.

travel blogger florida keys

What I’ve Loved Online This Week

This Week’s Story – On Being British In The Florida Keys

travel blogger florida keys

There are endless things, I have come to realise, that we Brits do differently to the Americans.

There are the things we say differently…

“Oregaaaano” rather than “o-regano”, “tOmato” compared to the “toMATEo”, oh and just ask me to say “aluminium”- everyone does.

Then there are the things we do differently…

Tea, for instance, is always hot not cold. We add milk, not lemon. We drink it from china cups or mugs, not beakers. And thats just tea.

At face value we are similar.

Where I can draw comparisons between the British and our European counterparts, such as the French, I can likewise see the similarities between us and the Americans. The French and American cultures, however, are worlds apart. The UK has always been a melting pot of cultures, borrowing from every country, from India to Iceland, and yet has such firm traditions and ‘quirks’ that our American neighbours find us rather funny.

We are similar enough for them to see us as their strange cousin with dodgy teeth and a not-ironic fashion sense. Someone who looks like they could be one of them, but when we open our mouths it becomes glaringly obvious that there is something foreign going on.

Living in Florida for a year (yesterday) I have been both the observer of these differences, and the butt of many a joke (arse as we might say, ass – you Americans).

But the Florida Keys is a new place entirely, and as much as the Keys looks and sounds American, it is different again from the rest of the states. It is the Britain of the states, if you will. Whilst being absolutely nothing like Great Britain, it is American in many ways, but also with a whole lot of differences… and nothing like France.

travel blogger florida keys

Firstly, the Keys is pretty much Cuba.

Our neighbours are Cuban, there are Cuban restaurants everywhere, the only good coffee you can get around here is Cuban, and there are chickens running around loose everywhere which I can only guess is a Cuban thing – I haven’t seen it anywhere else, and they all seem to have a Spanish ring to their clucks. At only 90 miles away, if you are a skilled stone skimmer you might even hit Cuba.

Secondly, the Keys is a prime holiday destination.

Americans that are here are on vacation, along with the backpacking Europeans and the honeymooning Brits. We get what you call ‘Snowbirds’, who come down mid-February in their plush homes-on-wheels towing their VW beetles. There is very much a difference between the visitors and those who live here year round, but the difference extends to the rest of America and the world vs. the locals. Brits are as foreign as the Milwaukee snow birds, and just as similar.

I suppose the key differences really do come down to our accents…

“I could listen to you speak all day,” I get, a lot.

But compared to the brash twang of certain American accents, I kind of get it, too. Above all, what people like is the strangeness of something foreign. The exoticness. That’s why they come to the Keys instead of mainland Florida. That’s why Cuban coffee tastes so good (or that might be the twelve sugars per cup.) That’s why they don’t understand what I’m saying initially when I ask for a “waTer” instead of a “waDer” and after repeating it three times they soften and say, “Oh I know honey, I just wanted to hear you say it again.”

travel blogger florida keys

As much as the differences might seem stereotypical, I suppose maybe they are stereotypes for a reason. For instance, being a Brit in the Florida Keys means that this is honestly my life…

  • I say sorry way more than anyone I know here, usually when the person does something to me, such as bang my leg with their trolley in the supermarket. Sometimes it stops them in their tracks and they look at me bemused.
  • I still can’t get over the 20% tipping culture, and now am both so confused and relaxed I actually overtip, leaving a $50 when the bill is $25 as if I am the Queen of England and money is dirty.
  • I miss M&S so much, I still can’t bare the thought of buying ‘basics’ from Victoria Secret. Everyday underpants should be bought in packs of 5 when shopping with your Mum, not seen worn on the runway by Alessandra Ambrosio wearing fishnets and giant angel wings.
  • People still say “really?” in amazement when I tell them something ridiculous with a straight face. Sarcasm is still something the Americans are still learning.

But the one stereotype I must put a stop to is that Brits drink more than Americans.

Sure, they drink beer that tastes like cat-piss (sorry Bud-Light) and in small cans rather than pints, but when it comes to liquor, every shot is a goblet size and takes me at least three gulps. I think we need some kind of drinking Olympics to put an end to this debate once and for all. Grab the Irish and the Scots, oh and the Germans. Who is with me?

(But wait till February, I am half way through dry January.)

Sure, I had the bright red lobster sunburn when I first moved, I most likely tipped badly, and I asked for a cappuccino in a dive bar. I was every inch of British stereotype. Whilst I don’t do those things anymore, and would confidently say that I am accustomed to my surroundings, having been living an American/island/salty-sea-dog kind of life for one year now, the one thing that will never change is my accent.

And as long as I say “can I use your mobile?” instead of “cellphone” there will always be a language barrier, and I will always be a foreigner.

And that’s fine with me!

Thanks for reading and see you next Sunday

Emily x

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